“I Didn’t Know What I Was Reading.”

June 30, 2012

Scan the book titles in many preachers’ libraries, and you are likely to run across a commentary by Homer Hailey. Hailey taught at Abilene Christian College (1934-43, 1948-51) and Flordia College (1951-1972). His commentary on the minor prophets was published by Baker Book House in 1972. Christianity Today heralded it as one of 25 most significant books published that year. Hailey also wrote commentaries on Revelation, Isaiah, and the gospel of John.

A biography of Homer Hailey tells his story. Although his family had Restoration Movement roots, he grew up without religious training or going to church. His mother, Mamie, was a baptized believer, but was in a painful marriage. His father, Robert, had problems with drinking and gambling. After his father’s death, Hailey and his brother became the family’s financial support. Still a teenager, he too became involved in smoking, drinking, and gambling. In fact getting beat up one night, while slightly under the influence of White Mule bootleg liquor was one factor that started him in the path of reform.

Mrs. Huffman, wife of Hailey’s employer, had been correcting him and trying to encourage him for the good. Under her influence, he attended church and was later baptized at a “protracted meeting.” Hailey took his new founded faith seriously. He set out to read the Bible on evenings and Sundays. Hailey’s comment about his early Bible reading is the reason for telling the story. Reflecting back on the experience, he said, “I didn’t know what I was reading, but I read it through.”1

Hailey’s early experience with reading the Bible is common. I think it is important for the beginning Bible reader to hear about the early experiences of an advanced student of the Bible. We may have the mistaken impression that we just aren’t smart enough when we experience difficulties in understanding. We may think that other people understand it easily the first time through. We may get discouraged. The truth is that it takes time. The Bible is a library of books that spans thousands of years of history. We have to take small steps in getting familiar with the names, places, events, and themes.

I felt the same way early in my Bible reading. But even my earliest readings of the Bible registered something. I found moral principles by which to live. It has taken more time to contemplate grace, the holiness of God, and the need for Christ’s death. The deepening of appreciation and understanding never ends. I can assure you that the accumulation of many small steps can take you on a grand journey—a journey of faith. Persistence will pay spiritual dividends. The cry – “I don’t know what I’m reading” – is just the first step.

1David Edwin Harrell, Jr., The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century: Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith. (The University of Alabama Press, 2000) p. 32.

Solid Foundation, Bright Future!

June 25, 2012

Paul says that as a skilled, master builder he laid a foundation. Paul is clear about that foundation. The foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). He pictures others building on that foundation. “Building” must refer to Christian preaching and teaching. The building that will bring a bright future must be in keeping with the message as revealed by Paul and the apostles. It must be on the solid foundation.

In Ephesians 2, the image is similar. The temple of God, which is the people of God, is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. In the ancient world, the cornerstone was what gave the building orientation and stability. It was far more than just being decorative. The mention of the apostles and prophets provides us with another emphasis on reliance upon the inspired message about Jesus.

A solid foundation always produces a bright future. Now I realize church history (as well as the history of congregations) has times of challenge and discouragement. But those built on the solid foundation have the hope of being a part of an unshakeable kingdom. (Hebrews 12:25-29) Nothing stops those who are faithful unto death. Nothing takes away their reward. They have a bright future, because those built on the foundation are becoming a temple in which God will dwell.

Someday those on the solid foundation will hear the loud voice from the throne say, “Behold, the Tabernacle (the Dwelling Place) of God is with people. He will tabernacle (dwell) with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (see Revelation 21:3, my translation of the quote). The solid foundation leads to this bright future!

The Transgenerational Father

June 15, 2012

It is easy to recognize that a father influences his child. That’s one generation influencing the next, but a grandfather or great-grandfather also influences his grandchildren or great-grandchildren either directly or indirectly. The power of fatherhood is transgenerational.

A grandfather or great-grandfather may have an opportunity to directly influence his grandchild or great-grandchild, but regardless, he has had a powerful influence indirectly, because he has helped raise the grandchild’s father or mother or the great-grandchild’s grandfather or grandmother.

As a father’s influence becomes more indirect, it also becomes more widely felt. There is a reason we call genealogies a family tree. From two people come many branches — that is the widening of influence. Families grow by multiplication not simple addition.

The Bible recognizes this influence of one generation upon another.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Psalm 78:5–8, ESV)

Psalm 78 recognizes the transgenerational power of fatherhood. This influence may be for better or worse. The psalm advocates the influence for the better, but it illustrates the influence for the worse.

Stu Weber in his book, Tender Warrior, quantifies a father’s spiritual influence.

When the father is an active believer, there is about a seventy-five percent likelihood that the children will also become active believers. But if only the mother is a believer, this likelihood is dramatically reduced to fifteen percent.*

What kind of influence do you want to have on the generations to come?

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)

*Stu Weber, Tender Warrior, p. 143.

Inductive Bible Study

June 8, 2012

The Restoration Movement has a plea to go back to the Bible. But what does that mean? All Christians claim Bible authority in some way. Everyone has their own proof texts. Yet, there is a problem that can exist with proof texts. The problem has to do with context.

We can easily understand the problem. Politicians and celebrities at times complain that their remarks have been taken out of context. Maybe we have even experienced it ourselves. A sound-byte of words sounds like the person is saying one thing, but when you hear or read the larger context, it means something totally different. The same problem can occur with proof texts.

How did the Restoration Movement propose to overcome this? They after all challenged their own assumptions about many beliefs. What gave them the ability to correct their own approach to the Bible? I think at least two things guided them.

First, they realized the Bible was to be read and interpreted as you would any other book. At first blush, this may sound a little disrespectful. Christians believe the Bible is inspired of God. Shouldn’t it get special treatment? The answer is that God has chosen to communicate in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books just as we would. There are no special rules for inspired writings. We have to ask the same questions as we would of any other text. What genre or kind of writing is this? We have to ask the typical reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why? We must understand what is said in context.

Second, they spoke of inductive Bible study. Both J.S. Lamar in his The Organon of Scripture (1860) and D.R. Dungan in his Hermeneutics: A Text-Book (1888) spoke of inductive Bible study. In fact, the phrase is part of the subtitle of Lamar’s book. In logic, induction means reasoning from the particulars to the general. The inductive method as applied to Bible study means that you gather all the facts in the text before you draw your conclusions. That way you are allowing God to speak in context.

One of the clearest examples of this has been in our approach to becoming a Christian. Many stop at belief. Some may say belief and repentance. The Restoration Movement leaders, however, did an inductive study of the Bible. They gathered all the facts before arriving at a conclusion. When we look at all the conversion accounts in Acts and all that is said in the epistles, we conclude that one needs faith, repentance, confession of Jesus, baptism, and regeneration or new birth (which occurs at baptism when done in faith). The difference in the answer comes from gathering all the evidence.

Note: the books by Lamar and Dungan can be read online at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/.

“Light from Above”

June 1, 2012

It was spring semester of my first year of graduate studies. A friend had called and offered me a summer job of preaching at a country congregation in his absence. I had spoken on occasions at churches since high school, but had never before had the weekly responsibility of delivering a sermon and teaching a class. I agreed to the offer, and then the dreams began. Nightmares. Recurring nightmares.

What was the dream? In the nightmare, I was standing before a group of people with nothing to say. Suddenly having the responsibility of speaking regularly, it was a dream that left me with a cold sweat and wondering if I was doing the right thing.

Some of that fear went with me into full-time work. Saturday nights for a long time were tense. It didn’t matter that an outline was written and in my desk. The tension was there. Sundays and Wednesdays have a way of being relentless. No sooner are you finished with one and another one looms ahead with its deadline.

Over the years though, I have discovered something. The nightmare is true. I don’t have anything to say. I certainly don’t have anything worth saying three or four times a week. Yet, I am convinced that God does have plenty of things to say to us from His Word. The task of the preacher is to let the congregation hear the Word of God through the things he says. The task is to let scripture speak clearly.

On a trip to West Virginia, I had the chance to visit Alexander Campbell’s home. Campbell was an outstanding 19th century Restoration Movement leader. I stood inside the study that he had built away from his house. It’s a small hexagonal shaped building with a later addition that added some space and a fireplace. Originally, the only windows in the study were in a small cupola on the top. Campbell considered it a metaphor for his work, “light comes from above.”

God is the source of revelation and wisdom. The preacher in his study is attempting to clearly understand God’s message, so that it can be shared with others. God is the one with something to say—a message worth our time and attention.

“Light from above” – what a wonderful motto!

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

Source of the photo: www.therestorationmovement.com/lightfromabove.htm